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N.H. House panel endorses animal-cruelty legislation blasted by opponents as “ag-gag” bill

A state House committee yesterday endorsed an anti-animal-cruelty bill that is strongly opposed by the Humane Society of the United States and other animal-rights groups.

The legislation requires anyone who sees livestock or poultry being abused to contact the local police within 48 hours, and let officers know whether they took any photographs or video of the abuse. Opponents have labeled it an “ag-gag” bill and say its true goal is to prevent evidence of animal abuse, such as undercover videos of factory farms, from becoming public.

But supporters said the bill would help stop animal abuse quickly when it is happening and help protect New Hampshire farmers from spurious public accusations when it isn’t.

“What we’re trying to do is to protect the small farmers in New Hampshire. . . . What we’re trying to do is to prevent what I think an attorney would refer to as ‘frivolous actions,’ by making people think before they accuse,” said Rep. Janice Gardner, a Dover Democrat.

The House Environment and Agriculture Committee voted yesterday, 11-6, to recommend the full House pass the bill, which has been rewritten since it was introduced at the beginning of the year.

It won’t go to the floor for a vote until January. If it passes, it will go to the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee for a second look. If it passes the Democratic-controlled House a second time, it will then go to the Republican-controlled Senate.

In its latest form, the bill states that “anyone who witnesses another person performing acts of cruelty to livestock . . . or to poultry has a duty to report such cruelty to law enforcement with jurisdiction, within 48 hours of witnessing such cruelty.” The witness must also let the police know about any evidence they collected, including photographs and video recordings.

The original bill required the person to turn any recordings over to the police, while the new version simply requires him or her to inform the police about any evidence and retain unedited copies of any photos or videos for 60 days.

Under the bill, failure to report animal cruelty would carry a fine of $250 for the first offense and $1,000 for each subsequent offense.

Similar bills became law in Iowa, Missouri and Utah in 2012. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam vetoed a similar bill in May, saying it could infringe on constitutional rights including freedom of the press.

Hudson Republican Rep. Bob Haefner, the New Hampshire bill’s prime sponsor, said the first priority is to stop animal abuse as quickly as possible.

But a second goal, he said, is “to make sure that our farmers here in New Hampshire are not accused of cruelty in the court of public opinion – that they’re never informed of it, law enforcement is never informed of it, there’s no official charges, just charging them in the court of public opinion. The intent is to stop that.”

But opponents on the Environment and Agriculture Committee said the bill focuses on farm animals to the exclusion of other animals, could prove difficult to enforce and may carry significant unintended consequences.

“Putting the onus on a citizen – any citizen – to determine what animal cruelty is and have to report it within 48 hours is, I think, pretty difficult to enforce,” said Rep. Christy Bartlett, a Concord Democrat.

Four Democrats and seven Republicans voted for the bill after more than an hour of debate. All six “no” votes came from Democrats.

Animal-rights groups came out against the bill in January, calling it disingenuous and un-American. The Humane Society of the United States said the latest version isn’t much of an improvement.

The bill “gives the illusion of animal protection,” but is “deliberately designed to obstruct the detection and documentation of farm animal abuse, not to ensure these crimes are reported to the proper authorities,” wrote Joanne Bourbeau, northeastern regional director for the Humane Society, in a letter to committee members this week.

The bill, Bourbeau wrote, “seeks to place obstacles in the path of whistleblowers who would expose the mistreatment of farm animals and food safety issues on agricultural facilities.”

The New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union also opposes the bill, with Executive Director Devon Chaffee writing in a letter that it would chill protected speech and “require every citizen (regardless of age) to become a police informant.”

The New Hampshire State Grange, on the other hand, supports the bill. President Jim Tetreault wrote in a letter to the committee that it would help protect “farmers who are being convicted in the court of public opinion, when they have done nothing wrong.”

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or
bleubsdorf@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)

Legacy Comments11

didnt democrats promise to "focus like a laser" on jobs?

That was a laser gun, destroying them. Just look at the coal industry. Jobs lost.....Oh, oh, oh I forgot "green" jobs were created at places like.....let's see.......Solyndra, yeah that's right!

Ahem. "Hudson Republican Rep. Bob Haefner, the New Hampshire bill’s prime sponsor, "

AHEM....democrats control the house and control the schedule

This was originally an ALEC bill and it has turned up in other states. It has been de-ALECized by other pressure groups' lobbyists— and for some reason it got the support of a couple of leading Democrats. There is a lot of opposition to it, and its chances of passing through the House are not great. After that it still needs to get past the Senate and the Governor

FACT: HSUS opposes this legislation. That's all one needs to know to understand that this must be a good piece of legislation. HSUS is a scam and they don't give a damn about animal welfare. I was on the fence about this bill and admittedly didn't know much about it. Now I'm for it.

I'm not sure I understand how this law could be used to protect animal abusers, especially since the reporter is not required to turn over evidence to the police. Isn't it just another mandatory reporting law, similar to the laws we have that require people to report elder and child abuse? You can't say those laws protect the abusers. What am I missing here?

It is an anti-whistleblower law. Sometimes it takes weeks of undercover work to document animal abuse. It can not be reported in 48 hrs. Why would the gov. want t o be able to tell people when they need to turn over information. This law if for the large factory farms.

I see. Thank you Tillie.

If a bill is strongly opposed by the HSUS and other animal welfare organizations, then it can be safely assumed they know what they are doing and that this bill is no good for animals. This is a bill that is backed by large, industrial farms in order to protect their way of doing business - including inhumane practices - for the sake of profit. The more states they can get to pass this bill, the better it becomes for big agriculture corporations - the very people who are already competing with small farmers to feed our country. By supporting this bill we are protecting industrial farms, not our fellow neighbors. If you really care about the welfare of farm animals, follow the lead of our nation's most reputable animal organizations and do not support this bill.

Cloudmarch, I beg to differ. This bill is great because it will prevent the animal rights radicals from taking videos, editing videos, and waiting MONTHS to report the problem, so that they can USE the video to create laws based on untruths! This has happened in other states. Farmers and others working with animals are responsible animal owners for the most part. It is clear that the goal of the HSUS is to ELIMINATE all animal owning and keeping; this is a goal that they have stated in many published articles, so anyone who actually believes the HSUS in these matters is either an animal rights follower OR a person who has not been fully educated about the animal rights agenda. You might check out www.bewareanimalradicals.com

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